If Content Is King, Why Is Content Creation Broken?

CONTENT_ Joe_ CMS & Content creation is broken. - Google Drive

“Content is king” has been a long standing proclamation by large and small publishers alike. With brands rapidly turning to content marketing as the Next Big Thing, the familiar phrase has made its way back in the mainstream.

Why content is so important is pretty easy to understand: Consumer experiences can’t survive without quality content. Generating content at scale is the trickier part, with publishers (and brands and new guys on the block like Contently) all experimenting in news ways of creating high-quality content in high volumes.

What makes things more complicated is that with these new methods of acquiring and creating content – from contract resources to part-time bloggers to acquisitions – come very different methods and systems for creating, storing, and distributing content.

As a publisher attempting to aggregate and distribute content in consistent, measurable, and clear ways, the challenge is immense. So how do you begin to tackle it?

Let’s start with the platform decision.

This sounds easy right? Just throw up a free WordPress blog, pick some awesome plugins, snag yourself a template, and start publishing. That’s often a fine path, actually. But what about deep customizations, connections to other systems internal and external, and the ability to create the new ad innovations or the paywall idea you had? The Atlantic, through some dramatic customizations, was actually able to create a pretty cool site qz.com that’s been used as a prime example of new presentations that are responsive and allow for a continuous reading experience built on top of WordPress.

Sooner or later you’ll want to do more than what a standard out of-the-box platform gets you. Executing on those bright ideas can often lead you down the road of looking at a large, expensive commercial system that requires a team of engineers, consultants, and trainers to get in place, which is usually an awful idea. On top of all that, your content creators want to share Instagram pictures, include tweets, as well as mix in videos from Vine and YouTube. You’ll find many of the large publishers sites are using custom solutions. Buzzfeed for example credits much of its recent velocity of growth in part to the fact that they have built all solutions in-house from CMS to ad serving, creating ideal inter-operability. This has translated into flexibility at all layers.

Many new platforms are emerging to attempt to solve these problems while the old standby platforms are finding the happy medium between flexibility and standardization.

One of the most promising solutions is the latest beta version of the Django CMS. This team is thinking about what a CMS platform should really provide in all the right ways. Most interestingly, they are allowing for the concept they call “frontend editing” so your content creators are working directly on the site when creating content instead of within an editor and then publishing. This is a great example of how to increase speed of content creation and allow for more creative layout.

But platform selection is just one step. It doesn’t fix the content-creation process itself.

Everyone’s talking about “mobile-first” content creation.

But just because it’s all the rage doesn’t mean we have the tools that allow for the creation of mobile content on these platforms. Since the majority of content is created on desktops, most platforms don’t even have the ability to preview it on a mobile device prior to publishing – and we’ve all seen how bad content can look on a mobile device when it’s pushed without regard for how it’s going to be consumed.

Think about how great a piece of content could be if it was created in the native format where it would eventually be consumed. Wouldn’t the content creator make different decisions based on what was initially viewable or how long the post would take to read? Or maybe even where the placement of the video or photo would be within the article?

This is in part why social platforms like Twitter and Facebook have excelled on mobile, they have lowered the barrier and created the simplest way possible to create a piece of content. Existing blogging platforms like WordPress and Tumblr have solid mobile apps to help get you there too, but the mid-tier platforms haven’t yet cracked the code for enabling their content to be created via the mini-computers we all carry around in our pockets.

And then there’s the aggregation across all your platforms.

Many new tools have emerged to help with both aggregating and presenting distributed content across all these disparate platforms while the core content management platforms catch up. For example, Storify collects and packages media and content from around the web. You then drop a simple module inline on your site to display this new collection of content. This is a great interim step to collect content but makes for much more difficult distributed control of the package and has potential rights issues. CNBC recently used Storify to collect and “live blog” Google’s Chrome event. They collected tweets, photos, and videos from around the web in a curated module for everyone to quickly digest the highlights of the event.

Or if you need to pull everything from one place and distribute in one easy way, maybe Contentful, an emerging platform focused on this new form of “create once distribute everywhere” approach, is your best bet to create your content with control around the experience.

Let’s not forget: Design matters. A lot.

Your core audience has expectations around design, layout, and experience. How those differ depends on who you’re trying to reach but regardless they should be a key factor when selecting the right tools.

For example would creating a new collection in Medium and posting within that site effectively get your message across with a simple and clean single template approach? Medium gives your readers an complicated experience that’s focused around quality written content accessible from any platform – and let’s you select a single photo to accompany it. The major difference with Medium is that the content is organized around collections with the only identifier being author. For example the collection “on-management” is centered around high-quality content on this topic regardless of the author. Quality wins on Medium and part of your strategy has to be around building recognition for your writers for medium to be an effective outlet.

As we look to new consumption platforms we need to remember that our tools need to evolve at the same pace. (For more thoughts on the pace of content creation, newsroom culture, and new newsroom tools, check out Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile’s piece in paidContent). The publishers of the future will win with this in mind as creating quality content will require new adaptive presentations across new platforms we haven’t even thought of yet as well as advancements in distribution channels.

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